Our front-row seat for the crashing and burning of the internet
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission wants to end net neutrality, which is the concept that all internet traffic is treated the same by the companies that control the pipes the data travels through. Wiping out net neutrality will allow ISPs to favor some sites and services over others. Wired's Kent Finley explains in a November 22, 2017, article how losing net neutrality will change the internet.
Finley predicts that ISPs will offer subscriptions providing unlimited access to a collection of "preferred providers," while charging extra to access any other sites or services. In other words, bye-bye competition. It will be nearly impossible for new services to challenge the established internet giants.
The only good news for consumers is that ISPs are expected to wait a year or more before implementing such changes. According to analysts quoted by Finley, the companies fear "the inevitable legal challenge" to the FCC's proposal, as well as a consumer backlash that results in Congress (a new one, obviously) reinstituting the net-neutrality protections implemented by the Obama administration.
Stanford Law Professor Barbara van Schewick, who is the director of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, explains in a November 26, 2017, post on Medium why Congress should block the FCC's plans to end net neutrality. Professor van Schewick points out that the only ones in favor of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal (no public hearings, by the way) are ISPs, who would be allowed to operate with no government oversight whatsoever.
Professor van Schewick concludes by stating the following:
"For the first time in history, ISPs will be allowed to interfere with these free markets, limiting choice, distorting competition and raising the price of doing business for everyone, including entrepreneurs and small businesses. And for the first time in history, the FCC will be powerless to stop them. Only Congress can prevent this from happening."
Copyright holders to consumers: We own you, you own nothing
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the organization that keeps the web running. Recently, the W3C joined with Netflix and other copyright holders to propose a way for companies to control how their products are used after they've been purchased. The W3C thus switched sides, going from protecting consumers to protecting copyright holders against the legitimate interests of consumers.
Cory Doctorow writes in a November 27, 2017, essay on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's DeepLinks blog that no consumer wants digital rights management (DRM). Who wants to be told by their car dealer that their favorite mechanic can no longer maintain their vehicle? The sole purpose of the technology is to limit consumer choice and make copyright holders more powerful, which means more profitable.
As I wrote in the Weekly of September 22, 2017, the W3C's new Encrypted Media Extensions standard for DRM prevents your browser from copying, sharing, or saving copyrighted material that you have acquired legally. Doctorow highlights the many legitimate uses that DRM blocks, which include security research, archiving, and enhancements for people with disabilities.
Controls on how we are able to use the products we buy will become even more restrictive with the rise of the internet of things. Imagine a toaster that will accept only bread sold by Wal-Mart. Doctorow points out that the copyright holders admit the EME standard and other DRM laws will be "shutting down competitive activities that don't violate copyright" as part of their copyright "policing."
Companies holding copyrights also believe they should be allowed to prevent third parties from reporting on defects in their products. The overreaching by copyright holders is made possible by Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA). DMCA not only imposes up to 5 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines for "anyone commercially engaged in bypassing a DRM system," it makes discussing such a system a potential criminal offense.
Doctorow writes that Section 1201 is used by copyright holders to threaten security researchers who discover security vulnerabilities and other errors in the copyright holder's products. The EFF is suing the U.S. government to overturn Section 1201 of the DMCA.
The fight to prevent overreaching by copyright holders begins by shifting the debate to the "real issues," according to Doctorow. DRM has nothing to do with protecting copyrights and everything to do with stifling competition and limiting the rights of consumers to learn about defective and potentially injurious products.
The wicked will not prosper forever -- Then it's our turn
There's a line from the song Fallin' & Flyin' that Jeff Bridges sings in the movie "Crazy Heart" that goes, "It's funny how fallin' feels like flyin', for a little while."
That fuzzy blotch that our culture just careened past earlier this year was the tipping point. It's the same point of no return that firefighters note when a blazing building is so engulfed it makes more sense to let the structure burn than to try to save it. Just contain the damage, then sweep up the mess and start over.
The internet can't be saved from the corporate criminals that are destroying it in exchange for untold riches. In fact, the sooner it fails, the quicker we can start the only real important work: Saving the planet. No Democrat or Republican will lead the last desparate struggle to preserve what writer/futurist Cory Doctorow calls "the nervous system of the 21st century."
Once the moneyed point-one-percenters are all sequestered in their survival bunkers, the hard work of re-establishing our democracy will fall to us working-class schmoes -- like always.
It's time for the working class to reassert itself. We alone can set the goals that will ensure our children and grandchildren have a bright future. The process starts by rejecting the agenda set by the corporate crooks who are now calling all the shots.
It's time for wage earners and small-business owners to set the agenda, one that devises and implements a strategy for preventing the economy from imploding and the environment from collapsing.
The big-name, for-profit media have been taking a beating. Sometimes they deserve the criticism, and sometimes they don't. Previous Weeklies described how journalism has been taken over by algorithms, and how media lies are converted into huge profits by Facebook and Google.
The July 5, 2017, Weekly links to a list compiled by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting of the online news sites the group considers reliable. In that post, I wrote about the three news sources I rely on most often: The Economist, The Guardian, and ProPublica.
If you're looking for local media outlets that aren't controlled by billionaires and mega-corporations, NewsMatch provides a list of nonprofit news organizations.
As Thomas Jefferson didn't actually write but probably believed just the same, "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people."
The digital media crash is well underway, according to Talking Points Memo editor and publisher Josh Marshall in a November 17, 2017, post. But it's like a big secret everyone is keeping from the venture capitalists who have over-invested in media properties that will never come close to profitability.
Marshall writes that Google, Facebook, and "a few others" have gobbled up all the online ad revenue, cutting the number of "revenue seats" from about 30 to a handful.
When "ongoing re-investment" in digital media dries up, the "phantom revenue stream" disappears along with it. The result is a crash that nobody wants to talk about -- yet.
Stephen King ain't got nothin' on Eric Holthaus's Ice Apocalypse in the November 21, 2017, cover story of Grist Magazine. Imagine two Antarctic ice shelfs -- two miles thick and combined, the size Texas --ready to slide into the ocean. These massive glaciers are currently over land, which distinguishes them from recent collapsing ice shelves, which were already in water and thus didn't affect sea levels much.
The two big ice shelves serve as plugs preventing enough ice to raise sea levels 11 feet from plunging into the ocean. Scientists believe there's a real possibility the glaciers could collapse "in a mere 20 to 50 years -- much too quickly for humanity to adapt," according to Holthaus.
American fascists (and there are a lot of them) are having their day in the sun, as this November 25, 2017, Twitter stream from Jared Yates Sexton explains. We can't let these people have "a place at the table," according to Sexton, because they are symptoms of a disease that will kill our democracy if we let it. We must stamp out fascism and anti-democratic movements quickly and completely, by any (legal) means necessary.
So keep reading those nonprofit news sources, keep killing fascism, and keep honoring labor. Those are your assignments for this week and every week.